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Poster: Rick Prelinger Date: May 5, 2004 3:59pm
Forum: opensource_movies Subject: Re: robbery, and prices for public domain dvd,s

Jack2, I need to speak up for archives here, and to some extent for distributors. The "original archive prints" from which you'd like to get inexpensive transfers often don't exist. Film restoration isn't a scam, it's quite often necessary if many films are to be seen and heard.

Take a typical early sound film. Most often there are no release (projection) prints that represent the state of the film as originally released. The archive is obliged to collect the best existing elements, often from archives around the world, and painstakingly assemble a complete versions of both picture and soundtrack. Often this involves the physical repair of individual frames, and painstaking work to fix a damaged or incomplete soundtrack. In other cases there are no remaining master or negative film elements, and a release print (whose condition may vary from poor to excellent) must be used to produce a new negative. All of this, plus much more, constitutes restoration, and it is not inexpensive. Nor can it be done by people without considerable experience.

After a film is restored, it must then be transferred to videotape. This is another complex and expensive process. For every hour of original film, it takes from two-and-a-half hours to hundreds of hours of operator time to make a good transfer that represents the intentions of director and cinematographer. (We transferred the Prelinger films much more quickly and inexpensively, but we were transferring for easy access, not restoration. These transfers don't look so good on a large TV monitor or a theatre screen, and if any of you have succumbed to the temptation of buying the many DVDs of films downloaded from this site and sold on eBay, I'm sure you'll wish you'd saved your money for popcorn.)

After a video transfer is made, a DVD must be mastered. Others in this forum can talk about the cost of professional-quality DVD mastering -- I haven't done it and don't know -- but I do know it isn't anything like what you do when you take a mini-DV tape and master a DVD-R on the Macintosh.

Distributors usually pay for film-to-tape transfer and for DVD manufacturing and production, and naturally they want to recover their costs and also make money.

There are indeed overpriced DVDs out there, there is indeed a great deal of marketing hype, and I agree that there's a good deal of useless crap on many DVDs. Furthermore, I fervently believe that archives should do much more to make their holdings easier to access. But films are difficult and expensive to restore, and archives do highly complex work behind the scenes without receiving the credit and praise they deserve. A finished product may appear simple and transparent to the viewer, but a lot of work has gone into it for it to appear that way.

And if you'll let me rant one paragraph more (and please understand, I'm railing against ideas here, not people), let's review how a typical Prelinger film moved from the shelf to the web. First, someone had to decide which films to put online. Second, the copyright had to be checked. Third, copies in our New York vault (now gone, alas) had to be checked...which one was most complete, which was in best condition, etc. Sometimes sequences from two films were combined to make a video copy whose quality was better than each of its parts. Fourth, the film was sent to Charlie Churchman outside Philadelphia. Charlie inspected the film, repaired it if needed, cleaned it ultrasonically, assembled it on a longer reel with other films, transferred to videotape, adjusting color, contrast, brightness and audio as needed. Where are we? Fifth, I got the videotape, inspected it. Sixth, either Greg Allen, Keith Sanborn or JD Samson (and most recently, Skip Elsheimer) digitized it and made an MPEG-2 file. This file was then QA'd and then ftp'd to the Archive. To sum up, we did this the quick, dirty and cheap way, compared to what happens to a typical feature film when it is released on DVD.

There must have been a lot of sugar in that bowl of rhubarb I just finished. Thanks for listening.

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Poster: cashel Date: May 5, 2004 5:00pm
Forum: opensource_movies Subject: Re: robbery, and prices for public domain dvd,s

Thank you, Rick, for the valuable and interesting article. A lot of the information was new to me. My original post was very general and wide ranging. When individual dvd titles are considered, many high priced ( such as Metropolis,mentioned by ridetheory) are worth every cent due to restoration. My post was prompted by the marvellous work done by Prelinger Archives. Prelinger does it,so why shouldnt the other archives (funded by govt and public moneys ) follow .??I have been very satisfied( and grateful) with my numerous Prelinger downloads(whether mpeg4 or mpeg1 etc)That was the purpose of my post that you have done it ,so many other archives should be doing it